|Published: December 2017|
In an exclusive tête-à-tête with India Strategic Mr Gene Cunningham, Vice President, Global Sales, Boeing Defense, Space & Security highlights the enhanced features of F/A-18 Advanced Super Hornet Block-III and how it fits the bill for the Indian Armed Forces to meet the security challenges well into the 21st century.
Q. How is the Super Hornet geared to address the evolving needs of the Indian armed forces?
A. The Super Hornet is a platform that is continuously evolving to outpace future threats. Every two years Boeing and its industry partners along with the US Navy work on delivering new capabilities to the fighter. Critical mission systems such as the radar, mission computers and sensors continue to evolve to match up to the mission profiles of the future.
To address the capabilities needed in the air wing as early as the 2020s, Boeing has also developed the Block III Super Hornet to complement existing and future air wing capabilities. Block III is the same aircraft as Advanced Super Hornet. The Advanced F/A-18E/F Super Hornet’s multi-mission capabilities include battle-space situational awareness, counter stealth targeting, greater range and increased acceleration, improved survivability and reduced signature and room for growth.
The Block III Super Hornet will come online at the same time as the F-35. In the 2020s, three Super Hornet squadrons and one F-35 squadron may form the airwing of carrier fleets. Currently, in the US Navy three out of four, and in most cases all four squadrons based off aircraft carriers, are Super Hornet squadrons.
These advanced capabilities can be both built into new aircraft and incorporated into existing aircraft, allowing maximum ability to field these capabilities quickly and affordable. Block III Super Hornet is built from the same airframe as Block II, providing low risk development and maintaining the lowest operating costs of any US tactical fighter. While Boeing demonstrated advanced Super Hornet capabilities in flight in 2013, the package of upgrades has evolved to best complement F-35, EA-18G and E-2D as they will be operating together in the air wing well into the 2040s.
Q. What are the key differentiating features of the Block III Super Hornet vis-à-vis the Block II?
A. Key features of Block III Super Hornet include enhanced network capability, longer range with low-drag, stealthy conformal fuel tanks, long-range detection with Infrared Search & Track, enhanced situational awareness with a new Advanced Cockpit System, improved signature with low observable next generation radar cross section for increased survivability and 9,000+ hour life for reduced life cycle costs by incorporating design changes into production aircraft based on lessons learnt from the Service Life Analysis Programme.
A significant design evolution is the addition of Conformal Fuel Tanks. Mounted on the shoulder of the Block III, conformal fuel tanks extend the range of the Block III by 100 nautical miles which is significantly larger range when compared to the Block II. Conformal Fuel Tanks also free up the space occupied by a centerline drop-tank. This means that the Air Force and the Navy have an additional hard-point to carry more air-to-air or air-to-ground weapons.
Modern and next-generation aircraft have a large amount of data available through their sensors. The Super Hornet Block III comes equipped with Distributing Targeting Processor Network (DTP-N) and Tactical Targeting Network Technology (TTNT). These are basically a computer and a big data platform that work together to aid in even more efficient movement and management of data within assets.
The Advanced Cockpit System is a next-generation use interface, which simplifies the interpretation and projection of a large quantity of information for the aircrew – both in the front and rear cockpit – making it easy to interface and manage an information network.
The Block IIIs sensors along with the APG-79 AESA Radar coupled to DTP-N and TTNT systems plots information on the Advances Cockpit System making it easy for aircrews to view and manage information. Even though the Super Hornet Block II is a stealth aircraft, Boeing has made a few signature improvements to reduce the Radar Cross Section (RCS) of the Block III to make it even stealthier.
Q. What is the cost and operations advantage that the Super Hornet brings to the table?
A. The F/A-18 Super Hornet not only has a low acquisition cost, but it costs less per flight hour to operate than any other tactical aircraft in US forces inventory. Part of its affordability is because the Super Hornet is designed to need far less maintenance; this translates into high mission availability. Ease of maintenance (supportability) results in lower maintenance man-hours per flight hour.
Plus, the Super Hornet does not require any scheduled depot-level maintenance and the engine does not require any scheduled maintenance between overhauls.
This low cost of operation, low maintenance requirements and twin-engine based survivability allow the Super Hornet to fly to and back from harsh environments.
Q. Can you give us an update on the progress of your response to the Indian Navy RFI on fighters?
A. We have responded to the Indian Navy’s RFI requirement and look forward to having discussions with the Indian Navy on their fighter requirement. The F/A-18 Super Hornet is the world’s preeminent carrier-capable multi-role aircraft. It is a combat proven, supersonic fighter jet with a defined US Navy flight plan to outpace threats into the 2040s.
Q. What makes the F/A-18 Super Hornet the best fit for the Navy’s fighter requirement?
A. The F/A-18 is the most modern and capable aircraft on the US Navy’s carrier decks today. In fact, the Block II Super Hornet reached initial operating capability in 2007. The F/A-18 Super Hornet was designed from day one for carrier operations and is the world’s preeminent carrier capable aircraft. It is a combat proven, supersonic, all weather multirole fighter jet with a defined US Navy flight plan to outpace threats into the 2040s.
Q. What are your plans for manufacturing the F/A-18 Super Hornet under the Make in India initiative?
A. Boeing’s proposed ‘Make in India’ plans for the Super Hornet are not about moving a production line but rather building an entirely new and state-of-the-art production facility that can be utilised for other programmes like India’s Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA) programme.
Boeing is prepared to bring its global scale and supply chain, its best-in-industry precision manufacturing processes, as well as the company’s unrivaled experience designing and optimising aerospace production facilities to bear in both expanding India’s aerospace ecosystem and helping realise the Make in India vision. The approach addresses the infrastructure, personnel training, and operational tools and techniques required to producing a next-gen fighter aircraft right here in India.
Boeing will work closely with India industry to ensure they have the very latest technologies, applying lessons learned from the current Super Hornet production line. The programme envisages transitioning airframe and subsystem manufacture to Indian industry in a deliberate way, representing extraordinary opportunity for technology insertion and growth within India’s aerospace industry.
Boeing will partner with Indian industry to develop the right capabilities as efficiently and cost effectively as possible to integrate these suppliers into the global supply chain. Boeing and its current industry partners are having robust discussions with suppliers in India about building Super Hornets.
Q. Are the F/A-18 Super Hornets compatible with the Indian Navy’s aircraft carriers? Or would they need any modifications to operate off them?
A. The Super Hornets are fully compatible with the Indian Navy’s aircraft carriers. Extensive simulation has shown that the Super Hornet is capable of conducting STOBAR operations with a meaningful weapons and fuel load.